Sometimes it’s hard to love the place where you live. Which is why, two years ago, I gave myself a challenge: every day for forty days I’d find *one* thing that I loved about Roanoke, Virginia. Then I’d go home and write about it.
From now until mid-October, I’m taking Mondays and Tuesdays and sharing excerpts from my gratitude journey with you. I hope these little posts give you a glimpse of the city through a newcomer’s eyes, and I hope they encourage you to help me share the sense of belonging that I’ve found here.
This post was Day 2 of my 40-day journey. It’s a little lonely, but it’s hopeful, too … And I think that’s the place where all good changes-of-the-heart begin.
Secret Messages in the Woods
If you follow the my street to its very end, the asphalt runs out just before the woods, and the sidewalk disappears into a tunnel of green. Except this time of year, it’s not just green, but also burnt umber and raw sienna, wine-dark shadow and light.
All that loveliness would be the Murray Run Greenway, and of all the things I enjoy on a daily basis in Roanoke, the greenway would be at the top of my list. Because on any given day when I go shambling around in there, I find something I like to call a Small Wonder. Like today’s satin-slick gray feather, tucked in among the leaves:
Or this giant beauty of a leaf, which rested right in the middle of the path today as if it were waiting for me:
Every once in awhile, though, I stumble over a Small Wonder that isn’t just a Small Wonder — it’s a Sign. Which is exactly what happened today.
There’s a place on the greenway where the path divides: one spur straight ahead toward the Shenandoah Life building, the other angling back toward Patrick Henry High. Right at the point of the divide is a kind of clearing, no bigger than ten feet in diameter, where sunlight knifes in and spills out over a fallen log.
Today, as I got close to that clearing, a noticed something white flashing through the trees. Ghost-white; Light-white. Whatever it was, it was too still to be a jogger or a dog or a doe. As I got closer, I realized that I was looking at a set of two lawn chairs, resting side by side.
And I know it sounds flaky, but at that moment my heart seized in my chest, because the image was so provocative that I knew it meant something. At least to me. Those chairs could have been left there by a pair of drunken teenagers who stole them from their elderly next-door-neighbor’s sunporch, but still — for me, in that moment, they meant something.
I circled the chairs, snapping photographs. Got down on my knees and crept close. The light sharpened and solidified around me, deepening the shadows, sketching the edges of everything with gold. When I had more than twenty shots, I turned to go… and suddenly stopped in my tracks. I realized I’d come recklessly close to missing the invitation of the moment altogether. Because here I was taking pictures of two empty seats in the middle of the woods, and I hadn’t yet sat down in one.
So I sat.
The sun passed in and out of cloud. The air filled with birdsong and leaf-rustle. And my heart filled with some of what it’s been wanting lately… Maybe not all, but some.
I understood then that this is the kind of invitation I’m trying to accept here. I don’t just want to *see* my city, but also sit down and breathe it in. Experience it.
And another thing: that second chair? In case you hadn’t figured it out by now, that’s for you.
Have a seat and enjoy this day with me. It’s good, and oh God, I’m so grateful.
Want to help me build a stronger sense of community here in Roanoke? If this post encouraged you, consider going over to Roanoke Outside and getting involved. Ask just about any newcomer what they like best about our city, and one of the *first* things they’ll name is our beautiful system of trails and our ready access to outdoor life. So invite that newbie friend of yours on a hike … And invite them to meet other outdoor-minded Roanoke’s, too.
Might be good for you, while you’re at it!